Aside from the normal uses of whose, i.e. for people, animals, or inanimate objects, can it also be used in regard to a motive, reasoning, or any other intangible attribute/characteristic of an action or decision?


Annually, egregiously lavish feasts are held in memory of his late father, which (is something) I don't understand.

Now, for the sake of concision, or a more literary approach, can it be paraphrased like this:

Annually, in memory of his late father, egregiously lavish feasts are held, whose reasoning I don't understand.

(whose referring to the feast being held/the decision behind it, or even why people would attend)

Another example:

To appease her fanbase, she started wearing black lipstick, which (is something) I don't understand.


To appease her fanbase, she started wearing black lipstick, whose appeal I don't understand.

Meaning, I don't understand why people/her fanbase would be attracted to it. (whose referring to the allure of "black lipstick", and the excitement it provokes.)

It sounds a bit off, but I found myself using whose within similar contexts so as to completely convey my meaning within one formal statement. Is there any other way to question the appeal/reasoning behind an action or decision, which is more formal than the former statements (using which + something), but not as odd sounding as the substitutes?

  • In the "whose" version of your first example, "whose" seems to refer to the father. So you're saying that you don't understand the father's reasoning. – Andreas Blass Jan 7 at 5:04
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    @AndreasBlass Thank you. My original example was the "lipstick" one, but since it seemed a bit inappropriate, I chose to come up with a more serious one, and didn't think much about it. Does it make more sense now? – Andrew.V Jan 7 at 5:16
  • Sure. You can use it with anything resembling a noun. In some cases, it would sound a bit awkward. – Ricky Jan 7 at 5:31
  • Formally it could be "the appeal of which" instead of "whose appeal". I am not aware af any other good alternative. – Peter Jan 7 at 6:06
  • No. In both of your examples, the meaning between which and whose is different. And in the first one, whose... is misplaced; it should be: ...lavish feasts, whose reasoning I don't understand, are held. – Tinfoil Hat Jan 7 at 6:11

There are several pronouns, such "which", "that", etc., that have no possessive version. If you need to have a possessive version, you'll have to rely on "whose" (putting 's after a pronoun is not correct). However, if you can rewrite the sentence to avoid it, that may be preferable. For instance, for your second example, you can say "To appease her fanbase, she started wearing black lipstick, the appeal of which I don't understand." The problem with "whose" is that it can cause people to think that it refers to a person, rather than a thing. This makes your "whose" a poor choice in your first example, especially since "reasoning" applies to a person, not a thing. In that case, it would not be rewritten as "the reasoning of which", but rather "the reasoning for which".

  • Based on other comments, your answer, and my common understanding: "whose" is not strictly incorrect to indicate a possessive nature for things not directly related to people or objects, but, if possible, it's best to rewrite the sentence using the following construction: "...The (appeal/reasoning/motive) (of/for/behind) which...". – Andrew.V Jan 7 at 7:41

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